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A couple of years ago I stumbled across the phrase "mors omnia solvit", and I got the impression that it was a rather well establihed saying. Now I started to research the source of this phrase (for the screenplay it inspired me to), but when I search for it, I find hardly anything, except the literal translation.

Is this a proverb or a saying that has been used before, or is it nothing more than a sentence? There are some search results that lead to law dictionaries, but there is no more information there except the literal translation. Could it be a legal term?

Also: I remembered the phrase as "mors solvit omnia". Would it be correct to put the words in that order, or have I just confused myself?

  • Either order is correct; Latin word order is quite free, and those three words can be put in whatever order you choose. (All that changes is which one is most emphasized.) – Draconis Mar 14 '18 at 22:47
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This most certainly seems to be a legal phrase.

Although I can't find the exact phrase in the classical corpus, as Pé de Leão shows above, it had passed into formal, legal terminology by the eighteenth century in the form you give.

However, the legal concept certainly existed before this. The verb solvere, which gives us the solvit in your phrase, could mean, amongst other things, to remove, cancel; to destroy the force of a legal or moral obligation.

The specific idea of death cancelling a legal obligation is illustrated in the Institutes of Gaius, dating from about AD 161:

Item si adhuc integro mandato mors alterutrius interveniat, id est vel eius, qui mandaverit, eius, qui mandatum susceperit, solvitur mandatum.

Again, if before a mandate was begun to be executed, the death of either of the parties should take place, that is the death of either him who gave the mandate, or of him who received it, the mandate is cancelled.

(3.160)

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I believe the earliest reference is in Jenkin's Eight Centuries of Reports. At the end of Case II on page 160, the text appears:

Mors omnia solvit, infinitum in jure reprobatur.

"Death dissolves all things; that which is endless is reprehensible in law."

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  • Nice find! But just for clarity, it should be noted that the phrase isn't from the 4th century but seems rather to be an 18th-century (specifically, 1734) comment or summation of the analysis of the case (which doesn't diminish the usefulness of your answer at all; this is a really great find) – Penelope Mar 15 '18 at 3:52
  • Sorry! I wasn't very clear above. I meant that the Latin isn't a direct quote of a 4th-century source but an 18th-century interpolation. The phrase may pre-date 1734 but we can't tell from this source. – Penelope Mar 15 '18 at 4:38
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    @Penelope. I interpreted it as possibly being as you say, but my reason for believing it to be the earliest reference is because numerous sources, such as Black's Law Dictionary, cite Jenkins as their source. To avoid confusion, I removed the comment indicating that it was a case from the 4th century. – Expedito Bipes Mar 15 '18 at 9:30
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This is more of a comment than an answer, but perhaps someone will find it interesting.

The words mors omnia solvit would scan perfectly as a part of a hexameter or pentameter line. This made me wonder whether this or something similar appears in classical poetry. The exact phrase is not attested in classical literature, but similar ideas do appear:

  1. Publius Ovidius Naso, Amores 2.10.35–38:

    At mihi contingat Veneris languescere motu,
      cum moriar, medium solvar et inter opus;
    atque aliquis nostro lacrimans in funere dicat:
      'conveniens vitae mors fuit ista tuae!'

  2. Publius Ovidius Naso, Epicedion Drusi 359–360:

    Tendimus huc omnes, metam properamus ad unam,
      Omnia sub leges Mors vocat atra suas.

  3. Titus Lucretius Carus, De Rerum Natura 3.214:

    [...] mors omnia praestat

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